This will be one of the very few posts related to the Slifkin issue. There is a enough literature out there on the net to create a small encyclopedia. Bearing that in mind , I came accross these two posts by R’ Daniel Eidensohn (who authored Daas Torah, Yad Yisroel – an index of the MB and an index of R’ Moshe Feinsteins Teshuvot). I feel his insights are highly insightful and get to the real core of the issues invovlved. I therefore felt they are worthy of sharing with a broader audience.
Date: Mon, 05 Dec 2005 01:59:16 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Rabbinical comments on R. Slifkin’s Science of Torah
Micha Berger wrote:
>While that’s true of the recent round of letters, that is not at all what’s said in the original. The original ban >used the words "melei’ei kefirah", "meenus", "kechol sifrei minim", >"divrei kefirah uminus", etc…. R’ Moshe >Shapiro: "sifrei minim heim" and "avodah zarah". R’ Shternbuch’s letter is entirely about ma’aseh bereishis. And then the >back-and-forth with R’ Elyashiv too was about whether R’ Hirsch’s and the Tif’eres Yisra’el’s >approaches to creationism are still withinn the pale.
>In short, there is very strong reason for the reader to extract the "wrong conclusions".
Just wanted to post some background information regarding the latest
round of letters.
As R’ Micha Berger writes – the original condemnations of R’ Slifkin have been for various reasons. One group acknowledges that legitimate authorities were quoted by R’ Slifkin – but that these views have been invalidated by the consensus of contemporary gedolim. This group focused on the issue of the age of the universe and the general issues of conflicts between Torah & Science. This is similar to the view expressed in the Chasam Sofer that a consensus can invalidate previously legitimate views. Similar R’ Tzadok says that because of the revelation of Kabbala the views of the Rishonim regarding Hashgocha protis and Yichud HaShem – now have the status of kefirah. Another group insisted that R’ Slifkin’s attitude of requiring the Torah to justify itself in the face of Science was impudent and disrespectful. Some even felt that such an attitude constituted kefira. Others felt that his kefira was that he stated that chazal could err in scientific knowledge. Another group argued that while the views of R’ Slikfin were o.k. for kiruv – they were out of place in the yeshiva world. Problem was that kiruv hashkofa has become accepted in the yeshivos and therefore it is necessary to uproot it – even at the expense of destroying a generation – in order to return the next generation to the correct faith. In addition some assert that R’ Slifkin is a righteous Jew who has sincerely erred and thus is not a kofer while others assert he is in fact a kofer.
The present upheaval involves two basic factors. 1) Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita has been the most significant support for R’ Slifkin up until now. Rav Shmuel is not only a universally recognized godol but is also universally recognized as a mensch. He and his son wrote glowing haskomos to R’ Slifkin’s books. Furthermore he prevented attacks on R’ Slifkin in the English press – including R’ Aaron Feldman’s shlita article which was to have been published in the Jewish Observer. He alsoasserted that – contrary to the other Godolim – that there is fact no clear mesora that the universe is 6000 years old and that one is not a kofer for asserting an age greater than 6000. However he was not happy with the tone of some of R’ Slifkin’s writings – though he did not feel that justified banning the books. 2) The reversal in his position apparently has occurred because of two essays written by R’ Slifkin – a) one concerning the Jumping Elephant which asserts that contrary to the understanding of Tosafos – elephants can not jump.This is relevant to the halacha of kinyan. b) an article discussing pesik reisha where he cited the case of Mike the Chicken who continued living after his head was cut off. In this article R’ Slifkin asserted that pesik reisha does not have to be 100% of the time but just the vast majority of times. He later retracted the article and apologized for not researching carefully enough to learn that Mike the Chicken in fact retained some brain stem.
These two essays have apparently persuaded Rav Kaminetsky shlita and Rav Perlow shlita ( who was also somewhat of a supporter of R’ Slifkin) as well as R’ Aaron Schecter shlita that R’ Slifkin was obsessed with showing the weakness of rabbinic authorities and that this was intolerable. Therefore their previous support and/or refusal to associate with the ban had to change. Hence the letters – even though they have not yet publicly explained why they wrote these letters.
Ironically these two articles were discussed with another godol – who is not one of R’ Slifkin’s supporters – and he asserted that R’ Slifkin’s analysis was entirely kosher in both essays. He stated that it appeared that the above mentioned Godolim have been uncomfortable for a while with having to defend R’ Slifkin – in the face of the vast majority of contemporary authorities – and that this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
We thus have the problem of an ehrliche talmid chachom – R’ Slifkin – who has been lauded for years for his success in kiruv being attacked for different reasons by different groups. Much of the attacks have not conformed with halachic guidelines. The attacks are being done by the godolim who define contemporary yiddishkeit. Even more problematic is that there is a significant element of the English speaking Chareidi world who do not understand either the reason for the attacks or the methods being
used. All the above has led to a debacle in which rabbinic authority is being ridiculed both for what it says and how it says it . It has also become a spectator sport in which the secular press – and the Jewish blogs- – have had a field day talking about the medieval ultra-orthodox Jews who are afraid of Science. There seems to be no obvious resolution because the issues involved transcend the writings and person of R’ Slifkin.
Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2005 03:58:21 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Rabbinical comments on R. Slifkin’s Science of Torah
S & R Coffer wrote:
>1) RDE claims that the bans compromised halachic guidelines yet neglects to illustrate his point.
This point has been rehashed many times. There is a minimum requirement that a person be allowed to defend himself before being publicly condemned. At least this is Rav Sternbuch’s understanding of the halacha – – as well as that of other poskim I have talked to. The condemnation – without chance for defense – by wall poster and newspaper ads is very problematic. Rav Nosson Kaminetsky has described it in greater detail – as he received the same type of treatment and has written a book (as yet unpublished) describing the process fully. There are other issues but that alone is sufficient to justify my statement.
>2) If one Rav or Rosh Yeshiva signed the ban, I might be comfortable with the above statement. But since a >large number of Gedolim signed the ban, the allegation of halachic impropriety seems audacious.
Again – I am not relying on my own judgment but those of poskim that I talked to. Thus your comfort level is not relevant. Why not ask your local posek what the halacha requires.
>3) There is an implication that contemporary yiddishkeit should not be defined by gedolim. I find this idea >problematic.
An interesting deduction but in fact the opposite of what I wrote.
"The attacks are being done by the godolim who define contemporary
I did not say nor did I mean to say that gedolim should not define contemporary yiddishkeit. If my wording was not clear than I apologize for creating a false impression.
>4) There is an implication that the only time a ban may be issued is if the entire frum world understands the >motivating factors of the ban, an obvious impossibility. There will always be dissenters.
I discussed this matter in detail with several of Rav Moshe Shapiro’s when he first issued his ban. They said that this is the first time that Rav Shapiro has ever signed on a ban because he feels that bans are usually destructive rather than constructive. However they claimed in his name that he felt that the insidious distortion of hashkofa in the yeshivos had to be corrected even if it caused the loss of many of the present generation. A similar issue can be found in Rav Dessler’s writings volume 3 page 355. There he asserts that it is worth paying the price of even causing 999 out of 1000 to go off the derech in order to have yeshiva’s which produce gedolim. He acknowledged that that was not the attitude of R S. R. Hirsch. Rabbi Schwab anonymously published a strong dissent to Rav Dessler’s thesis.
Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in his introduction to the Igros Moshe that the ikkar of psak is sevora. He also said that there is no such thing as a godol today – who can’t be questioned on the basis of sevora. This idea of respectfully questioning is clearly explained by Rav Chaim Voloshner in his commentary to Pirkei Avos.
This need for rabbonim to explain themselves is why I complied with Rav Sternbuch’s request to translate and disseminate on the Internet – his explanation why he felt R’ Slifkin’s views are kefira. I did not and do not agree with him – but I greatly appreciate the fact that he took the time and effort to make sure his views were fully understood. Rav Feldman also felt a need for explain his views.
Thus while there will always be dissenters – a reasonable effort needs to be made to explain what is going on. The efforts so far have been largely embarrasing in their contradictions and lack of cogency. Obviously these brilliant talmidei chachomim have justification for their views – but that doesn’t exempt them from teaching us what they are.
>5) There is an implication that because rabbinic authority is being denigrated, the Rabbis should not have >issued the ban. I find this viewpoint problematic. "ki yisharim darchei Hashem, v’tzadidkim yeilchu bo…"
It has always been recognized that one must persuade in situations where people have freedom to listen or dissent. Over the last few years we have experienced a number of shocks resulting from bans on books, sheitel, zebu etc etc – which have not had a favorable impact on kavod haTorah and rabbinic authority. It is additionally troubling because there are legitimate issues here that need to be clarified. There are alternative ways that these matters could have been handled which would have not generated the skepticism and cynicism that now exists.The latest round of letters is a further example of a process generating gratuitous disorientation. If there was in fact unanimity amongst the gedolim then perhaps you are right. However we have witnessed Rav Shapiro and Rav Sternbuch declaring R’ Slifkin’s views as kefira while R’ Shmuel Kaminetsky has said they are not kefira. We have witnessed R’ Aaron Feldman switch from defending R’ Slifkin to attacking him for kefira in a manner that even his talmidim at Ner Yisroel have found to be totally disorienting. As I pointed out it is very puzzling why R’ Shmuel Kaminetsky defended R’ Slifkin for so long and now has apparently reversed himself – without explaining what new events had caused him to see harm in R’ Slifkin’s works which he had not seen before.
On a lower level we have seen R’ Slifkin going from a superstar in kiruv work to being denounced as a heretic. We have seen R’ Dovid Gottlieb & R’ Dovid Orlofsky citing R’ Slifkin’s works and within a year assert that it is kefira. We have seen sincere intelligent kiruv workers suddenly
discovering that they have teaching kefira for years.
Yes it is critical that gedolim explain themselves in ways that are convincing to sincere and committed Jews!
>6) There is an implication that the secular press and cyberspace babble needs to affect the decisions of >gedolim when they feel they are fighting for the salvation of their nation, an idea that, once again, I take >issue with.
I am not suggesting that because of the reaction of the secular press that Gedolim refrain from telling us what is kefira and what is the Torah view. However, I am asserting that there is a need for clearer explanations than have been provided so far..
Hopefully I have made myself clear and I apologize for not being clearer the first time around.
In sum, kavod haTorah and kavod Gedolim requires that the present situation be handled differently